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New method eliminates uranium and waste from medical isotope production

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | April 15, 2022
Molecular Imaging

“Not only is the liquid sodium extremely challenging to work with, it is also used in one of the most extreme conditions that we can ever produce on Earth,” lead engineer Bas Vet, of Demcon, told Physicsworld.

The researchers plan to scale up the final industrial proportions and have included specifics for the target, its environment, the cooling and the system that processes the irradiated target in the final factory design.

They hope to have the factory built and operational by 2028.

The majority of Mo-99 is produced from high-enriched uranium at five nuclear research reactors in the world, and smaller amounts are produced from low-enriched uranium in at least three. Efforts to reduce highly enriched uranium and radioactive waste left over are underway. The Technical University of Munich in Germany is currently building an Mo-99 irradiation facility at its reactor, FRM II that is designed for targets with low-enriched uranium. Since it will be using less enriched uranium plates, it will irradiate at least twice as many to meet worldwide demand for Tc-99m. It also has developed a new method for extracting Mo-99 without the use of aqueous chemistry to decrease waste.

The U.S., now able to meet sufficient Mo-99 demand with its domestic source, announced in February that it will no longer ship highly enriched uranium overseas. This, it says, will help decrease the substance worldwide and assuage concerns that it could be used to build nuclear weapons, which are enriched with more than 93% of U235. HEU contains 20% or more U235.

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